HMC Heads’ Letter to the Times: Maths under threat

In a letter to the Times, 20/06/13, 9 HMC heads warn of the long-term negative effects on our intellectual and financial economies if the study of further maths is not preserved

Sir, We are deeply concerned about the likely impact of current A-level reforms on mathematics. The subject’s rising popularity could be reversed by unintended consequences of reforms on maths in state and independent schools.

Maths is generally taught in a unique way. It is often setted, and accelerated. Unlike any other subject, A-level maths requires six papers, or modules, rather than four. It has two A levels: Maths, and the much harder Further Maths. Both exams, however, have the same A-level status.

Two consequences of change radically threaten Maths. First, conditional offers from top universities increasingly (and, in medicine, almost exclusively) recognise only A levels sat simultaneously. This discourages pupils from taking Maths early, and Further Maths at all.

Second, modules now occur only in June, not also in January. Students taking Double Maths therefore have fewer sessions, for their larger number of exams. A typical student taking Double Maths will take 12 exams in two sittings as opposed to four in two sittings for a single subject; and this load can no longer be spread. This weight of examining will deter still more pupils from studying Further Maths.

We urge ministers to preserve the study of Further Maths, perhaps by awarding it a different name, status or structure. Long-term negative effects on our intellectual and financial economies are otherwise inevitable.

Peter Hamilton, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School; Timothy Hands, Magdalen College School, Oxford; Chris Ray, Manchester Grammar School; Jonathan Cox, Royal Grammar School, Guildford; Bernard Trafford; Royal Grammar School, Newcastle; Michael Gibbons, The Grammar School at Leeds; Edward Elliott, The Perse School; Timothy Haynes, Tonbridge School; Anthony Seldon, Wellington School

Click here to read the letter.